When Bazoumana Sissoko died on December 27, 1987, the myths surrounding this legend of Malian culture neither started nor ended. Even his birth is surrounded with myth. He is said to have been born on the day the French general Archinard took the town of Segou (this historical event took place on April 6, 1890), - according to some in Koni in the Tamani cercle of the Segou region, and to others in Seguela which nowadays is in the Koulikoro region (but at the time was also part of the Segou empire). Not only born blind, but also a paralytic from a young age, he nevertheless grew to a monumental status in Malian society, earning him the nickname of Le Vieux Lion. As a Sissoko he was born to become a griot of the nobility, and this destiny he took very seriously. He is a classic example of a traditional griot, and as such refused to 'sell out' praises to anyone. Instead he studied the extensive range of legends and myths of Segou and the bambara epic, using the examples of the heroes of these legends to praise positive human qualities. His limitations he turned into an advantage, by studying the ngoni and becoming the undisputed and inimitable master of this instrument.
He lived through the degradation of the colonial era, through two world wars, experienced the struggle for - and subsequent joy of - independance. At the end of the colonial era, in 1952, he was one of the first 'native' artists to be recorded by Radio Soudan, when he accompanied Koni Coumaré.
In the first decade of Mali's independance Bazoumana evolved to the status of national monument, not just by writing the music of the national anthem of the new state (the lyrics were written by Seydou Badian Kouyaté), but also by his contribution to each and every national event. Very soon in hearing Bazoumana on Radio Mali Malians knew that an important event had taken place or was taking place, whether it was a day of national celebration or of national mourning.
After the military coup d'état in 1968, led by 'Balla' Moussa Traoré, Bazoumana was rarely seen (although his music was still heard on the radio). A passage in one of his rare songs from this era where he sings that a griot can not serve two masters (jatigui) is interpreted as an explanation for his absence from the 'limelight'.
His withdrawal from public life after 1968 did not result in Bazoumana fading from the memories of the Malian people. Instead the myth surrounding Bazoumana grew. It was said that in the heat of a performance he had put his beloved ngoni aside,and the instrument had continued playing on his own*. Even today you can still hear stories (or myths) about Bazoumanaba and his magic ngoni.
When Bazoumana died in 1987, it was said that one of the legendary balanzan trees, which stand at the entrance of the town of Segou and which are symbols of Segou's status as a former empire and craddle of bambara culture, had fallen.
This cassette is a local copy of a recording made by Radio Mali. I have asked several people about the date or year of these recordings, but have been unable to get a unanimous verdict....
* this was actually confirmed to me by (people who I consider to be) very reliable and down-to-earth witnesses.